Mailbag Questions!

In this article, Brad answers a huge range of questions from who the top 5 players of all time are, how to prepare for events, and what he thinks of the new GP schedule.

Two weeks ago I asked you guys for questions you had for me. I was surprised by how many of you sent in questions and how good they were. Thank you for helping me with this project, and I hope you like what I had to say. Let’s get into it!

Joel Bertlett:

So my question for you is, are there any general guidelines, tips, or tricks that you have found useful to make the most of out your play online? (For example, deciding what decks to play in Dailies, when to sell packs that you’ve won, how to manage trading/selling cards, etc…)

The grind is something I know very well. Magic Online has turned into a tool for testing these days, but a couple years ago grinding was all I did. I did it for rent as well as for getting better at the game and picked up a few tips along the way.

When playing Constructed events, you need to know what your goal is. It can be to win product or learn about the format. Both are needed when trying to come out ahead on MTGO. You never want to get stale in a format or keep grinding a deck that is not well placed in the metagame.

You want to play the deck that you think will win you the most games when trying to win product. This is either a format’s most powerful deck (Jund, Valakut, Caw-Blade) when it is not getting hated out, or something that has already proven to win you matches.

When grinding it out, I like to play the deck in as many events as possible when it is right for the format. This will give you the best chance at winning packs before the format shifts. These decks are also very good to play in Daily and Premier Events.

If I am trying to learn something new about the format or test a deck that might be very good, I tend to play in 8-mans. This will let you play more rounds and also keep your deck out of sight from the Decks of the Week page on the Wizards of the Coasts website.

As far as selling packs goes, when the second set of a block is about to come out, it’s good to hold all your packs from the first set. At that point, the price of these packs are very low, since there are a lot of them around, and people are sick of drafting. So hold onto them and only sell packs for tournament entries.

Once the new set comes out, it all changes. People want to be drafting more, and the new set will be given out as prize support. The first set will go up in price, and the second set will slowly drop until the third set comes out.

I am a fish when it comes to buying and selling cards. I just buy whatever I need to play in an event. Sometimes I know a card will go up or down and exploit that for a few tickets, but I rarely spend the energy. I just want to play Magic!


The question I have is really about mental preparation. What steps do you go through to ready yourself for an event?

The most important thing to do is sleep. Everyone has thought this was such a stupid thing to say whenever I have said it in the past, but it’s the damn truth. Too many times do I see my friends go to PTQs and stay up till 2 am testing sideboard games of a random matchup. There is no way one or two slots of a sideboard is more important than three hours of sleep. You need it to be mentally prepared for the next day. Magic tournaments are long, and you will need the energy to finish out the last rounds of the tournament.

The next important thing is to drink tons of water. I drink more water during an event than the rest of the week. In Amsterdam, I was averaging a liter every hour and a half. I drank so much water that I was taking bathroom breaks in the middle of almost every other match. People started to even start rumors that I was cheating in the bathroom because they didn’t understand how I could be in there so many times.

These steps allow me to get mentally prepared for an event. Without these, I never seem to focus as much as possible.

I take one match at a time and never focus on my record. Even if I have to win out, I trick myself into forgetting it and just playing Magic. Don’t get stressed about finishes and prizes. You need to just play your game the way you want to play it. The more you think about these things, the less energy you will spend on actually winning the game in front of you. You can’t win the tournament without this win anyway. Just don’t worry about it.

This will also help you from not tilting over losses. Learn from them, but don’t live in them. Mistakes are constantly made, and even if it was the stupidest thing you have ever done, you will make an even worse play someday.

The biggest thing you need for an event is something you have no control over, The Fire. It is what drives us to win games of Magic. You want to have it all the time, but sometimes you can’t muster it up. At first I thought making goals would help me gain The Fire, but it hurt my efforts in trying to take one match at a time. The best way to try to always have The Fire is to play the best you can all the time. Sometimes you just want to play Magic for fun because it’s a game, but this hurts you more than it helps. Play as tight and well as you can all the time.


What are your favorite and most hated Constructed decks of all time? Why?

My favorite deck of all time is Caw-Blade before New Phyrexia. I love decks that give the player a ton of options as well as interact with the opponent almost every turn. Caw-Blade was just that. Sure the deck was powerful before Batterskull, but I still had more fun playing a mirror match than any other time in Magic’s history.

The Caw mirror match was the first time Magic seemed to have no variance. It was a fun break for a few months to play chess with Magic cards. My win percentage in the mirror was very high, and I could see why I lost every single game and knew I could have won it somehow. I even played Caw-Blade mirrors for fun whenever I could.

My most hated deck of all time was Caw-Blade after New Phyrexia came out. Batterskull made the deck too good, and the mirror matches went from the most fun I have ever had in Magic to the most frustrating. Games in the mirror would take forever, and matches constantly went to time. Tournaments because of it would go longer than usual, and the wait for rounds would be frustrating. It really frustrated me to see my favorite deck ever turn into a monster that not only ruined a format but tournaments in general.


You said in your article that you opponent forgot to attack with his Spellskite. Did you mean he should have equipped sword and attacked, or just attacked in general?

He should have just attacked. I had Gideon in play, and it would not be able to kill his Mirran Crusader if the Spellskite were tapped. Gideon Jura’s ability is “Destroy target tapped creature,” so Spellskite can’t redirect it to itself unless it is also tapped.


Who do you think are the top 5 players of all time? Right now?

Top 5 of all time

The problem with this list is I have not had the chance to watch most of these players up close. I have to go by what I have heard, so my list looks just like every other person’s who does this.

  1. Kai Budde
  2. Jon Finkel
  3. Gabriel Nassif
  4. Kenji Tsumura
  5. Luis Scott-Vargas

The first four players are obvious. All four of them have impacted the game in such a way that it will never be the same. They all passed the test of time and deserve to be on this list.

The last slot was much more difficult to figure out. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Luis Scott-Vargas are both amazing players and by far the best players playing today. They both have insane resumes. Paulo has a few more Top 8s than Luis does.

Paulo’s dominance of the game shows that he will go down as one of the best. He may even take over Kai as the player with the most Pro Tour top 8s if he continues to play. The only reason I think Luis takes number five is watching him play at Pro Tours. His line of plays and the way he prepares blows me away each and every time.  

Top 5 players today

The great thing about this list is I have watched these players play for the last couple years. I have played in test games or in tournaments with all of them and really know how powerful they are.

  1. Luis Scott-Vargas
  2. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
  3. Owen Turtenwald
  4. Martin Juza
  5. Yuuya Watanabe

Owen Turtenwald has been on an amazing tear this year, and this isn’t a fluke. Owen joined up with the test team in Amsterdam last year, and this catapulted him to being one of the most feared players on the Tour.

Martin Juza lives for Magic. He plays all the time and seems to always have the fire. He also averages a Pro Tour Top 8 each year. Martin will be on this list for a very long time in my opinion.

Yuuya Watanabe was easily one of the best players two years ago. He had six back-to-back Top 8s and won Player of the Year. He has not been on that type of a tear for a long time but seems to have things running again with back-to-back Grand Prix Top 8s. I think this man is back and ready to win some more tournaments.

I have played in two Pro Tours, and because of poor deck choice and preparation, I lost before entering the tournament. What advice would you give to someone trying to make it on the Tour without the support of an extensive pro team behind them?

Preparing for a Pro Tour is very difficult. I am so happy for the group that surrounds me. As I type this, I am in a room with Ben Stark, Wrapter, Ochoa, Luis, PV, Owen, Kibler, Conley, Lukas Blohon, and Martin Juza. We are in the middle of testing for Pro Tour Philadelphia in a cabin on a mountain. This is not what most people have to work with.

The format of the Pro Tour has been on MTGO every time I didn’t have a team. This meant I had an outlet to test. This next Pro Tour is the same way, and that is what I would do.

If I were unable to test on MTGO, I would try to find anyone I could to help me test who I respected as a player. It takes a ton of time to get a gauntlet ready, but it has to be done. Build a ton of decks and take them to your local card shop and start battling. If you are serious about the Pro Tour, you can find time to play some games.

Now, finding a good deck is much more difficult. I am not a great designer but am decent at developing. This means I would be very bad on my own. I would then just look at very aggressive/proactive strategies and go from there. Playing a deck that has its own game plan is powerful in open formats and even more attractive if you cannot tune a deck to be good.

It is also possible to try to find a group to test with. People are scattered all over the place who are qualified, and websites like Facebook can help connect you with other qualified players. This will at least help you theorize and get to work. It is also better to talk to everyone you can than no one at all.


Apart from grinding Modo, what was the one thing which helped you improve your game the most prior to you hitting the big time?

Confidence! It is not even close how much that improved my game. The more you trust yourself, the better you will play, and it will snowball. Take last year for example. I had no confidence in my game and was grinding Modo. I spent two months trying to get better after Pro Tour San Diego, and all of my efforts showed close to no results.

It wasn’t until the Zendikar Block MOCS that I turned around. I had a very good deck, and I knew I would do well. I ended up winning the tournament and finding out I can win at this game. This was the first time I truly trusted the way I played Magic.

Now that this was part of my game, my decisions got better, as I trusted myself. I went on to Top 8 six of my next seven professional events. Every time I did that, I got more confident in the way I played and started to make ridiculous plays, since I was on another level. Not only in skill but emotionally.


What is your opinion of the added attendance of the Pro Tour due to the rise in the number of Grand Prix? If it isn’t what you want, what would you do to ‘fix’ it (ex: add PTs to spread out the invites (which adds more invites as well), lower the pro points for the GPs, change the player’s club)?

I don’t know exactly how I feel about this just yet. I do know that there is no way the system is not going to change. Wizards will have to change how the player’s club works since there is no way they would want something like twenty level 8s next year. I also do not know if 16 slots for Pro Tours will be given out at each Grand Prix as well.

These are things that Wizards will have to figure out, and then we can react to their decisions.

However I can comment on the increased number of Grand Prix next year. As a pro player, I don’t like there being more tournaments if I don’t level 8 again. The appearance fee is very important if you want to go to every Grand Prix. Pro players don’t want to have to go to more tournaments just for a chance at Level 8 (or whatever the equivalent is). Going to more events to reach that is just more work and more expenses in the year.

For non-pros, this is a very good thing. More tournaments are always better for the game, and this will allow more people to play in big events. StarCityGames.com Opens proved that people want to play big tournaments, and Wizards is reacting to this in some way. We wanted more tournaments, so they gave them to us.

This will also allow for more coverage so people will be able to watch tournaments from home. There will be a tournament almost every weekend between of Grand Prix, Pro Tours, Nationals, and StarCityGames.com Opens. I am excited to see how people will react to this much Magic. Will there be too much strain on players to attend so many events? Add Grand Prix Trials and PTQs as well. It will be interesting to see what happens.

My article would be over right now, but one more question has been added. I didn’t receive it in an email; someone in the room asked it to me while I was writing this article. Paulo, interested in my answers for the top 5 players of all time, got the room involved. Josh Utter-Leyton then suggested a question, but it will be painful to answer. I know he was trolling me, but I’m up for the challenge.


How would you rank the players in the test team from best to worst?

The first five are easy.

  1. Luis Scott-Vargas
  2. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
  3. Owen Turtenwald
  4. Martin Juza
  5. Yuuya Watanabe
  6. David Ochoa
  7. Shuhei Nakamura
  8. Ben Stark
  9. Brad Nelson (They wanted me to list myself as well.)
  10. Brian Kibler
  11. Lucas Blohon
  12. Josh Utter-Leyton
  13. Conley Woods
  14. Matt Nass

I hope you are happy, Wrapter!

I had a great time writing this, but the real question is if you guys liked this. Feedback would be nice, since I might come back to one of these in the future. See you guys next week!

Brad Nelson